Essentially English only has 2 tenses: past and present. However, these tenses are used in a variety of ways so many people would say that there are many more tenses (or forms).
List of English FormsEdit
- Past Simple (PAST TENSE)
- Past Continuous (WAS/WERE + PARTICIPLE [ING])
- Past Perfect Simple (HAD + PAST PARTICIPLE)
- Past Perfect Continuous (HAD + BEEN + PARTICIPLE [ING])
- Present Simple (PRESENT TENSE)
- Present Continuous (AM/IS/ARE + PARTICIPLE [ING])
- Present Perfect Simple (HAS/HAVE + PAST PARTICIPLE)
- Present Perfect Continuous (HAS/HAVE + BEEN + PARTICIPLE [ING])
- Future with Will (WILL + INFINITIVE)
- Future with Going to (AM/IS/ARE + GOING + INFINITIVE)
- Future Continuous (WILL + BE + PARTICIPLE [ING])
- Future Perfect Simple (WILL + HAVE + PAST PARTICIPLE)
- Future Perfect Continuous (WILL + HAVE + BEEN + PARTICIPLE [ING])
The "Continuous" forms are sometimes called "progressive". The past perfect form is sometimes referred to as "pluperfect". The "participle" of a verb is the form which ends with -ing, i.e. reading, listening, etc. The "past participle" of a verb is sometimes called the "3rd form". The infinitive of a verb is the standard form found in the dictionary, i.e. be, have, like.
Typically the past tense is used to describe past states or actions.
- The past simple is used for almost all past states and is used to describe past actions which have been completed at the point of reference in the past - e.g. "I went to London on Saturday" (this action was in the past and it is complete).
- The past continuous is used for past actions which were occurring at the point of reference in the past. It is not normally used for past states [like, hate, see, etc.] - e.g. "I was playing football this morning" (this action was in the past and happening at the time we are talking about [this morning]). It is frequently used for long past events.
- The past perfect simple is used for past states and actions which happened before the point of reference in the past - e.g. "I had eaten my food when the door bell rang" (the eating of the food happened before the door bell ringing).
In addition to the previous forms used for talking about the past, it is also possible to use used to + infinitive to talk about past events which were habitual and no longer happen - e.g. "I used to play football". In the previous example this means that I regularly played football in the past and that I don't play football in the present.
Typically the present tenses are used to describe present actions or states and past actions and states which affect the present.
- The present simple is used for states which are true at the present time - e.g. "I like chocolate". It is also used for habitual actions - e.g. "I play football every day". The present simple should not be used to describe actions which are happening at this moment - e.g. "I am eating chocolate" NOT "I eat chocolate".
- The present continuous is used for actions which are happening at the present time - e.g. "I am cooking food". It is almost never used to describe states - e.g. "I love it" NOT "I'm loving it (although McDonald's would disagree)". The present continuous can also be used to talk about future arrangements provided you include some reference to the future in your sentence - e.g. "I am visiting my Gran tomorrow".
- The present perfect simple is generally used to describe states and actions that started in the past and continue into the present and maybe into the future - e.g. "I have eaten dinner". It's also used to describe past events where it is unclear exactly when the event took place - e.g. "I have been to New York".
- The present perfect continuous is used in a similar way to the present perfect simple but it's used more often for repeated events - e.g. "I have been calling you all day".
- The most common forms for talking about the future in English are:
- WILL + BARE INFINITIVE
- BE + GOING TO + BARE INFINITIVE
- BE + PARTICIPLE (Present Continuous)
The form with will is generally used when we make immediate decision about the future - e.g. "I'll answer the phone". The form with going to is used when we talk about future plans and arrangements - e.g. "I'm going to the zoo tomorrow". The form using the present continuous can also be used with future arrangements provided that you use a time reference - e.g. "I'm driving to work in 3 hours".
- Future Continuous is used to talk about the future in a similar way to how present continuous is used to talk about the present. If you're talking about a future event that will be in progress at that time in the future then you should use future continuous. As with all continuous tenses it is rare to use state verbs (like, hate, etc.) - e.g. "I will be playing football at 5pm on Saturday".
- Future Perfect Simple is not a frequently used form in everyday English. It is used to take about future events which are complete at that point in the future - e.g. "I will have finished my exam by 2pm on Saturday". In the previous example this suggests that the exam will happen on Saturday and that the finish of the exam is at or before 2pm.
- Future Perfect Continuous is not a frequently used form in everyday English. It is used to take about future events which started before that point in the future and have not yet finished or will reoccur - e.g. "I will have been teaching for 25 years in May". The previous example suggests that I started teaching before that point in the future and that I will (probably) continue teaching beyond that point.
In addition to the previous forms used to talk about the future, it is possible to use verbs like may and might to talk about more uncertain future events - e.g. "I may go to London".
Occasionally the present simple is used for referring to future events which are scheduled or timetabled. This usage is not as common as the first future forms but it is especially used when talking about timetabled transport and events like exams and meetings - e.g. "The exam starts at 5pm".